Battle of the Apps: Android Keyboards

In this week’s Battle of the Apps, we’re taking a look at a few alternative keyboards that you can install to your Android device. The stock keyboard that comes pre-installed on your device may work just great (HTC’s stock keyboard is pretty great), but many developers have created alternatives that provide users with more features than the stock keyboard, such as better word prediction, or complete elimination of needing to “type,” but “swipe” instead. We’re going to look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of four different keyboards–Swiftkey X, Swype, 8pen, and Thumbs Keyboard, and determine which of the them is putting on your device.

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Some stock keyboards, such as HTC’s, work great, but miss the spot on word prediction and other features that you might find crucial to faster use.

SwiftKey X
SwiftKey X is great. It’s a keyboard that has a heavy emphasis on word prediction, and bases what you’re going to type next based on your typing history. It allows you to analyze your typing history (specifically through text messages) and determine your typing pattern, which then allows you to type faster right from the get go. The word prediction bar that you typically see in several other keyboards gets larger with SwiftKey X, with the word that you will most likely use in the center of the screen to make it easier to select.

There’s one disadvantage to SwiftKey compared to the other keyboards that I’m going to look at today, and that is the size of the different keys. They’re quite small, which might make it harder to use in comparison to keyboards with larger keys. For those with big fingers, you may not be able to use it, which is unfortunate, because it truly has amazing features.

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Swype
Swype seems to be everyone’s favorite thing these days. It’s starting to show up pre-installed on many devices, but for those who do not have it pre-installed, you can sign up for the beta at the developer’s website. Swype gets rid of the need to type, and replaces that input with swiping. You swipe your finger to each letter that you want to type, and let go when you finish typing your word. If Swype doesn’t recognize the word you’re trying to swipe, just type it out and add it to the dictonary, and you shouldn’t have a problem with it being recognized in the future.

Swype could be considered the perfect keyboard, yet has a couple of flaws that might turn you away. The skin on the keyboard isn’t the most attractive. I like my keyboard to be themed neutrally, so that it matches everything and gives the phone more aesthetic value. Hopefully, Swype will provide theming support in the future to give users more variety.

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8pen
8pen is a tricky one, and not something that should be tried by anyone with little or no patience. It takes the entire traditional QUERTY keyboard concept and gets rid of it, completely. With 8pen, all of your letters, numbers, and symbols are on 8 different quadrants of an X. To get to each letter, you start in the middle of the screen, swipe to the quadrant that contains your letter, and then swipe around the “keyboard area” until your letter lights up, and then return to the center. The developer states that once users are used to it, they should be typing letters much faster and more accurately than with a traditional keyboard.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. 8pen seems like more of a failed experiment than anything else. I can’t say that I would recommend using this keyboard unless you’re extremely bored and looking to try something different. In my opinion, it takes much longer to type even one letter than it would on a traditional keyboard. Typing full sentences are quite difficult to, and by the time you’ve finished typing what you need to type, your arm will likely be hurting. If you’re looking to try something different, its kinda fun at first to learn–and then it just becomes annoying.

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Thumbs Keyboard
Thumbs Keyboard is one of the newest alternative keyboards out there, and is getting a remarkable response from users. The app allows you to adjust the size of your keys, to make them work better for you. They also have several different skins to customize your keyboard even further. It has a pretty good word prediction system. In essence, Thumbs Keyboard is everything that users want in a keyboard to make typing easier.

And it works well, too. I noticed a little bit of lag when I was using it for the first time, and at first, even with larger keys, it took some time to adjust to. This one, however, will clearly be a fan favorite, just because of the full customization options.

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All of the keyboards have their advantages and disadvantages. The one that I had the most fun using, however, was SwiftKey X, despite the smaller keys. The keyboard makes it much easier to send out your texts and emails faster and more accurately. If I had to put an order to which keyboards are the best, from first to last, that order would be:

1. SwiftKey X
2. Thumbs Keyboard
3. Swype
4. 8pen

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Battle of the Apps: Tap Tap Revenge 4 vs. Guitar Hero 5

Welcome to the first edition of Battle of the Apps! This is an epic showdown of the latest and greatest apps. In this edition, we’re taking a look at the music game genre and it’s impact on Android with Guitar Hero 5 vs. Tap Tap Revenge 4. Which one is more in tune with the Android community? Read on to find out.

Guitar Hero 5
Guitar Hero has had a massive impact on the gaming world since the first title became so popular back in 2007. The game redefined the music genre, giving users a more interactive way to play the game. Equipped with a plastic guitar as your controller, your coordination and ability to play the plastic guitar shaped how well you did in the game–it worked for some, but others (like myself) had a hard time adapting. The game spawned many sequels, mobile games, and a large amount of competition. It was recently announced that there would be no more titles in the series, leading many to believe that the musical genre was bound to be short lived.

The mobile games, while great to kill time on, have never really been up to the superior quality that you would typically find in the console versions. Guitar Hero 5 Mobile, however, offers you the opportunity to play on the drums or base guitar, giving you a couple new options to play on. The sad news is, instead of playing full versions of the song you want to play, you’re stuck playing a crap-quality clip version of the song. This really brings down the quality of the game quite a bit. You’re done playing a track about half way through it, and it gives very little motivation to try on a harder difficulty. What makes it even worse is that some of the tracks are 8-bit recordings. Honestly, the tracks do not make this app good. At all.

Gameplay wise, even on expert mode, you move very slowly through each your clips…I mean songs. What would typically be a fast paced song was turned into a slow moving minute and a half of thinking “when will this be over?!” It really brings down the value of the game even more. The notes aren’t all that hard to hit, either, which takes away a lot of the challenge that would typically be associated with the Guitar Hero franchise.

Let’s talk about the appearance. The menus are pretty nicely done, graphically, but that’s about all it has going for it. Navigating through the menus gets confusing at times, and you may accidentally click on something you didn’t mean to. Oh, and the in-game graphics? They suck. Pretty bad. Everything appears very cheaply made and honestly, I’m pretty sure it was. If you’re a fan of the 8-bit fun, the graphics and audio on top of it may feel like an old game. In that regard, it’s kinda cool. But for an app that typically costs $7.99, it just doesn’t cut it.

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If it wasn’t for the fact that the app was free today on the Amazon AppStore, I probably would have never played this. For those diehard Guitar Hero fans that have to play the mobile game, it might be okay for you. But as someone who expects a quality app out of a major video game publisher…PASS.

Tap Tap Revenge 4
Tap Tap Revenge has a special place in my heart. The original titles were released at a time when the iPhone OS (now known as iOS) was the only operating system in the touchscreen phone market. Since the first release in 2007, the developers, Tapulous, has gone on to several more titles with much more success. They’ve gotten artists to provide their content for new songs, which has given their apps more value. Tap Tap 4 is the first game in the series to get ported to the newer Android OS. It has it’s flaws (some of which are kinda serious), but all in all, it’s a fun game.

When you first load Tap Tap, you’ll have the opportunity to create your account. No passwords needed, just an email address. If you need to add a new device to your account, or if you need to take a device off your account, all you need to do is have Tapulous send you an email and you just have to confirm. Seems safe, and a great way to switch devices and keep all of your purchased music.

The menus for Tap Tap are great to use, and are some of the best of any Android app that I’ve ever used. However, this leads me to one of those serious flaws I mentioned before. For some reason, when you tap on some of the menu options, it doesn’t register it, and it can take quite a few tries to be able to click what you’re looking for. It’s a little frustrating, but hopefully something Tapulous will address.

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Now onto the in-game graphics. They’re beautiful! Each song you play will either have the standard Tap Tap Revenge theme, or a custom theme, depending on the song. They look great, most of the time, and really capture your attention. There is one major flaw, though, and it’s something that really hurts the value of the game. On some devices, instead of showing the game in a full screen view, you’re left with a half screen view, which may make it more difficult to play. On my Evo 3D, for example, it generates these nasty black bars on the top and bottom of the screen, leaving the action in about half of the screen, in pixelated form. It’s extremely annoying, and hopefully something they will address soon.

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There is a wide selection of songs available for you to download in Tap Tap 4, which give the game an insane amount of replay value. Songs come from popular artists, even, and most of the time, they are full version, high quality tracks. The game utilizes the recently-introduced in-app purchasing system on Android, which allows you to quickly add new content to your game. There are also several free tracks to download, as well. Some of these will be clips, but others will be full version tracks as well. The game has a great variety, and you’ll be playing for hours.

Gameplay wise, we see a little bit of lag once in a while, but for the most part, it isn’t hard to hit your notes (even in half-screen mode). You have all the multipliers and bonuses that you get in pretty much every music game, which helps it out quite a bit. You’re able to get great scores, too–in a round of LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem (great song), on medium mode, I was able to get a score of almost 775,000. That gives gamers a sense of accomplishment, and really helps people want to play more.

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Overall, the game has it’s flaws, but is generally a fun game to play. As soon as Tapulous can fix some of the issues the game has, it’ll be nearly perfect. The game is available free (ad-supported) on the Android Market.

The Showdown
While Tap Tap Revenge takes a page from the Guitar Hero legacy, there is absolutely no question in my mind that it is a much better app than Guitar Hero. With Guitar Hero, you’re paying $7.99 for a very low-quality game that just isn’t worth it. I feel bad for anyone who even thinks about purchasing the game, as it just doesn’t live up to the Guitar Hero standards. Let’s run down the basics of both:

Graphics: Tap Tap Revenge 4
Despite having some flaws, the graphics for Tap Tap look much better than Guitar Hero. The game board is typically much cleaner looking and flashy, giving it a unique appeal, compared to Guitar Hero’s standard, stationary game board that doesn’t really have more than slow moving notes going across it.

Sound: Tap Tap Revenge 4
High quality, full tracks to jam out to, or 8-bit demos or low-quality audio ports? I think I would rather take the former. The $7.99 price point does not justify the crappy audio that you will get on Guitar Hero.

Gameplay: Tap Tap Revenge 4
Tap Tap just feels more refined and more fun to play. There’s much more happening on screen with more multipliers, accelerometer use, and the length of each track. Guitar Hero had potential to win, based on the franchise name, but ultimately failed in how slow each of your clips…I mean songs, is presented.

Price: Tap Tap Revenge 4
At a price point of free, with several tracks to choose from, and the ability to purchase whatever tracks you want to have in your game, Tap Tap is the clear winner here. It is ad-supported, but in a typically un-intrusive way. Guitar Hero is $7.99 and ultimately fails to deliver on practically every element.

Overall: Tap Tap Revenge 4
Its a clear choice here–Guitar Hero just flat out sucks. Tap Tap has it’s flaws, but honestly ends up being a much better game than a title in a long-lasting franchise. Tap Tap was designed to keep people entertained, and not bore them to death. My advice, skip Guitar Hero. Your wallet will thank you.